Muslims Pray for Peace in Middle East

Times Staff Writer

Lubana Adi stood along Wilshire Boulevard on Saturday night, her young children at her side, clasping a poster affixed with a photo of an armed soldier standing in front of a boy.

Her sign read: “Losing Hearts and Minds.”

Adi, 30, a homemaker from Diamond Bar, made the 41-mile trip to the front lawn of the Federal Building in Westwood to pray alongside fellow Muslims for peace in the Middle East.

As an American flag flapped in a cool wind, Maher Hathout, senior advisor to the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, told the 200 gathered “to pray to Allah -- to pray to God. We turn to him because everyone else has turned us down.”


Surveying the small gathering, Hathout said size was not important. “If we are sincere, Allah can listen to one person, two persons -- he can ignore millions,” he said.

Still, Hathout acknowledged the toll taken on the local Muslim community by the release of the images of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American soldiers, as well as Israeli military raids on Palestinian refugee camps in recent days.

“People are feeling emotions, all of us are,” he said. “People are feeling anger, all of us are. People are feeling sorrow and sadness, all of us are.”

The vigil was organized by the Muslim Public Affairs Council as local Muslim leaders struggled with the question of how to respond to conflicts in the Middle East.

This month, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, as well as other Arab American advocacy groups, has lobbied in Washington against a “culture of hatred toward Arabs and Muslims,” which the groups believe is at the root of prisoner abuse in Iraq.

The Arab American organizations also have condemned the execution of American contractor Nicholas Berg and sought to make it clear that they believe his murder “was a barbaric response that is against humanity and against Islam.”

For Amira Muwalla, 37, the vigil was an opportunity to stand up for the values that she said drew her father to leave Jordan for the United States: “for a better life, for freedom.”

The pictures of Iraqi prisoners -- leashed, hooded, chained to railings, perched on boxes with wires dangling from their bodies -- sickened her. The beheading of Berg by men claiming to be acting in the name of Islam angered and saddened her.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Muwalla said fiercely.

She said the photos from Iraq -- showing treatment she called inhumane -- made her wonder what else has gone on there.

Motorists driving along Wilshire Boulevard honked as Muwalla held a sign reading “No to Brutality. No to Torture.”

The men, women and children sitting across the lawn recited verses of the Koran as prayers were offered in English.

“For those who are in the grip of fear of tyranny or terrorism, to be liberated from fear and enjoy God-given peace and security,” prayed one man from the stage. “For those who are making decisions on our behalf to have the fear of God while making such decisions.”

Leaders of the vigil asked that political statements be limited to the handmade posters made available by the organizers. As the crowd recited verses of the Koran, attendees held the signs -- many bearing the most recent photos of prisoner abuse.

“Terrorism has no faith,” read one, an image of Berg crouched in front of hooded men shortly before he was beheaded in a videotaped execution.

“Why do they hate us?” read another with the image of an Iraqi prisoner collapsed against a railing he had been chained to, his face shrouded by a hood.

Adi, the homemaker, said she had come to “support the Iraqis and Palestinians who are dying there. We try to say, ‘We are with you.’ ”

Although she voted for President Bush in 2000, Adi said she and other Muslims have felt abandoned by his government.

Ramsey Hakim, chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, who said he travels frequently outside the country, has been frustrated watching world opinion of Americans shift.

In the Arab world, he said there are segments who believe the invasion of Iraq is part of a religious war being waged by U.S. leaders, a perception he feared was worsened by photos of Iraqi detainees being abused.

“We could have had a demonstration,” he said. “But millions have demonstrated around the world and it hasn’t made a dent, hasn’t changed our leaders’ policies. We decided to pray to Allah to ask him to change the hearts of our leaders.”

As the prayers continued Saturday night, the isolation felt by at least some in the Muslim-American community was reflected.

Hathout, who led many of the prayers Saturday, said at one point: “We are praying for ourselves since no one else is praying for us.”